If you work in the North, you’re familiar with the scene: patients in gowns, riding wheelchairs and trailing IV pumps scrambling over snow banks and icy walkways and braving frostbite-inducing winds to get off hospital property to have a smoke. I suppose for most of my readers, the image will induce a great big “Meh.” But a new article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests otherwise, and that smokers who need to exit the hospital to smoke face special risks and little support in managing their addiction. Money quote:
Study findings affirm evidence that tobacco dependence treatment is inconsistently offered in hospitals and heath providers were uninformed about tobacco dependence treatment, despite availability of nicotine-replacement therapy at study sites. This treatment gap is perplexing, especially as within Canada there exists an evidence-based hospital tobacco dependence treatment program. Unintended patient safety consequences of smoke-free property necessitate effective tobacco dependence treatment during a stay in hospital simply as a risk-management action. Moreover, a health-promoting policy that causes patients to face diverse safety concerns (treatment disruption, infectious disease contact, exposure to adverse weather and possible violence) projects a contradictory health message.
Not helping, of course, are the usual (and sometimes, let it be said, judgemental) opinions of heath care professionals who view smokers adversely and see them as the authors of their own problems.* They tend to take the somewhat cavalier position that if smokers want to go outside for a cigarette, well, that’s their lookout. Elderly woman who falls on ice and fractures a hip while out for a puff? Hell, she brought it on herself by smoking! But is it actually humane to send sick people to the curb in the winter to tend to their addiction? Is it consistent with good nursing practice? And what about the liability and duty-to-care?
*I will never forget the physician who told a young, pain-wracked lung cancer patient that she was responsible for her suffering, and that she should go home and “deal with it.” But some HCPs like to play the blame game in general and especially with patients with addictive behaviours.